Bring up the phrase, “climate change,” in Indiana, and you’re bound to get a range of reactions. While the topic of climate change remains volatile, opinions have changed over the past several years as shifting weather patterns increasingly impact life and business, especially on the farm.
In 2022 alone, farmers in northern Indiana suffered drought conditions, rare to them. In the south, record rainfalls flooded fields. Regardless of any disagreements on the particulars of climate change, the farmer-neighbors Don Villwock talks with outside church every Sunday agree: “The weather isn’t like what it used to be.” Weather and climatic conditions once considered unusual are becoming the norm.
Villwock is a retiring no-till sustainable farmer who grows white corn, seed soybeans, seed wheat and popcorn on his farm near Edwardsport, Indiana. He has also served as Indiana Farm Bureau president and now co-chairs Indiana Smart Agriculture alongside Jason Henderson, senior associate dean for Purdue University’s College of Agriculture and director of Purdue Extension.
Indiana Smart Agriculture (INSA) is a farmer-led, self-directed work group formed by Solutions from the Land and Purdue University’s College of Agriculture in February 2022. Its initial goal was to explore and assess the impacts potential extreme weather events and changing climatic conditions are having and are expected to have on one of the state’s top industries: agriculture.
Indiana ranks among the top 5 in the nation for duck (1st), egg (2nd), soybean (3rd), turkey (4th), corn (5th) and hog (5th) production and in the top 10 for blueberries, peppermint, processing tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, snap beans and cucumbers.
While Indiana agriculture is productive and diverse—important assets for resilience, climate change is creating new challenges to which farmers need to adapt:
- Warmer and wetter conditions.
- Longer growing seasons, but not necessarily earlier planting.
- Warmer July nights that disrupt pollination and lower corn yields.
- More frequent and longer periods of flooding and drought.
- Warmer winters, which put perennials at risk.
- Reduced farm labor capacity.
- Increased pressures from pests, diseases and weeds.
- False springs, resulting in perennial fruit crop losses.
- Increased temperatures, creating heat stress for livestock and less available/lower quality forage.
- Higher production costs.
- Difficulty building soil organic matter.
“We are going to need to make some adjustments in the way we farm to accommodate this changing climate,” Villwock says.
The good news is, however, there are pragmatic steps that can be taken to sustainably intensify production, improve resilience and concurrently deliver mitigation services. The approach must be rooted in science and focused on improving both economic and environmental sustainability.
“For agriculture to remain sustainable, it also has to be profitable,” Villwock says. “There’s no one right solution to any of this, but we need to keep our minds open to new practices that would increase soil health, water quality and air quality.”
Indiana, with its storied academic institutions, centers of innovation and technology, conservation partnerships and value chain collaboratives is well positioned to meet the challenge. Solutions from the Land applauds Indiana Smart Agriculture’s collaborative efforts to move a farmer-centered climate-smart conversation forward in the state with the vision to keep Indiana agriculture vibrant, innovative and productive for generations to come.
Learn more about the Indiana Smart Agriculture Work Group and its findings and recommendations in its first report, “Indiana Smart Agriculture Report: A Vision and Roadmap for Indiana Climate-Smart Agriculture.”
The next step for INSA will be constructing and building support for a science-based, climate-smart action plan that can guide future policies, programs, partnerships, and investments needed for Indiana agriculture to adapt and thrive. To do so, it has invited all stakeholders, and especially young, next-generation farmers and ranchers, from across Indiana’s agriculture and forestry value chains to join the conversation. If you are interested in participating, contact Ernie Shea, Solutions from the Land president, at firstname.lastname@example.org.